We had a pony. She was stubborn and we couldn't ride her, but who cared. She was ours. We had a garden. It didn't grow so well. The red clay soil and the summer heat became deadly for just about everything but the okra. Who cared. The potential was there. Okra wasn't so bad if it was fried.
I'm not sure where the worm growing idea came from. Dad located a man who had a worm farm either in Hooker, Oklahoma or Slapout, Oklahoma or somewhere in between (maybe we were motivated to visit by a bit of curiosity as well as the worms). We all loaded up in the good old Ranch Wagon and headed for the Panhandle. Saw my first real-life tumbleweed on that trip.
At that time, OU's football team was also known as Big Red. That seems a strange comment now, as we're more accustomed to Boomer Sooner and Crimson and Cream, but I am fairly certain that we called our outfit Big Red Worm Farm to play on the OU theme. Mom painted a sign to put up on the highway and one for our mailbox post advertising the availability of good bait worms.
As one of the Big Red Worm Farm volunteers (pressed into service) I learned more about worms than most 11-year-old girls ever cared to know. I could recognize worm castings and eggs, mature worms, mating worms, baby worms that looked like tiny white threads. We surprised more than one fisherman when they arrived for bait and found three girls comfortable counting out and packaging worms. Feeding (particularly coffee grounds, but it seemed we spread something else--don't remember) and misting the beds were a regular part of the routine. I believe we had a layer of newspaper on top of the soil and hay on top of that, but I could be wrong about the hay.
Anyway, the beds were established and we were even filling garden orders for worms. Normally this would entail getting the average weight of a certain number of worms and then weighing an order for several thousand, but we didn't have scale. However if my two sisters and I divided up the order we could count out the worms in not-so-short order. I preferred seeing the fishermen come for bait.
|Photo by Judy Roberson|
Guess what chickens love to eat? Worms. Guess where we had built the worm bins? Beside the old dilapidated chicken coop that we never figured we'd actually use for a chicken house. But as if by some ancient instinct, that's where the chickens loved to roost at night. And that's where they waited for us to pull back the newspaper to water or feed the worms. No matter how much chicken scratch we scattered for them before, during or after worm care time, they descended on those bins like they were starving whenever we pulled back the cover. It was an all-you-can-eat buffet as far as they were concerned.
Worm feeding/watering became such a fight that we ended up butchering the chickens. "We" as in another friend who butchered chickens like some people made beds, and who coached my mother through the ordeal. I'm pretty sure I hid somewhere out of earshot. I could count worms any day, but...We never had another flock of chickens at Big Red Worm Farm.
The garden orders became too tremendous to fill. Some filled orders had arrived at their destination with dirt and dead worms, so there were orders to re-fill. After awhile the volunteer brigade was sick of counting out worms, and Dad just didn't have the time. There weren't enough fisherman to make the venture pay otherwise.
We screwed in a new lightbulb, let the worms that could make it crawl back into the dirt, and let Dad clean up all the dried wormy bodies that were left. That pretty much marked the death of our worm farm adventure.
I still wonder sometimes if it would be a viable business today, with the renewed interest in organic gardening. Gardens love Red Wigglers maybe more than chickens do!